A Stinky Cheese for a Serious Cheese Lover
Strong in aroma, but varied in flavor and texture, washed rind cheeses are for the serious cheese lover. For some people, the more stinky the washed rind cheese the better, and we definitely applaud them for their adventurous palate.
But what gives washed rind cheese its signature rind color and aroma? The exterior of the cheeses are washed with salt-water solution (brine) that is occasionally blended with beer, wine, and cider for additional flavor characteristics. This consistent washing of a brine solution can happen once a day, once a week, or once a month - and the washing attracts salt-loving bacteria called haleophiles. These salt-loving bacteria give washed rind cheeses their distinct orange hue and pungent aroma. A popular haleophile bacteria found in washed rind cheeses is called b.linens, but it is important to note that there are a variety of salt-loving bacteria at work on the rind of a washed rind cheese.
Featured in this photo: Winnimere from Jasper Hill Farm
Origins of Washed Rind Cheese
One of the origins of washed rind cheese began with Trappist monks who had also taken up the production of Trappist ale in their monasteries. The production of beer and cheese was started as an additional source of funds for monasteries. An example of this is the Belgian Chimay beer and Chimay cheese started in 1862. The monks would transform fresh, non-soured milk into curd with cultures and enzymes and then drain the cheese in forms to make them dense enough to wash with a Chimay beer and salt solution as they ripened in their caves for a few weeks.
Factors that Effect Ripening
Since the milk used in making washed rind cheese was fresh and non-soured (unlike the soured, acidic milk housewives used for Camembert), it naturally attracted the right salt-loving bacteria. The acidity level of the curd and milk when making cheese is essential to attracting the right type of bacteria, molds, and fungus.
The longer term origins of washed-rind styles also came from a preservation mentality - salt slows down and regulates the rate of fermentation in foods, and so naturally by washing cheeses in salt-water solutions, they could keep their cheese fresher for longer.
Soft, spreadable washed rind cheeses like Willoughby, Epoisses, or Taleggio often have a very sticky rind, so they require higher levels of humidity in order to preserve that delicate sticky quality. We recommend storing the cheese in a humid climate of 80% to preserve the integrity of the rind.
Featured in this photo: Fontina Val D'Aosta
The denser style of washed rind cheeses such as Raclette and Fontina can withstand dryer climates, but their rind does have a tendency to crack and lose its signature characteristics when stored under 80% humidity.
Best Way to Store Washed Rind Cheeses
The Cheese Grotto was designed specifically with this style of cheese in mind. The Cheese Grotto provides that balance of humidity, airflow, and natural materials to allow washed rind cheese to thrive. You'll notice the rind will keep its signature texture and flavor if the Grotto is stored on the kitchen counter or in the fridge.
If the Grotto is out of your budget currently, we recommend you consult the 3 Best Ways to Store Cheese article!
How to Serve Washed Rind Cheeses
It is always, always recommended to let your cheese come to room temperature before you enjoy it. The experience is so vastly different, it is a shame to do otherwise. And, of course, serve the cheese with its beautiful rind full of flavors of peanuts, hay, and earth - it's nature's compliment to the paste of the cheese which is often more subtly creamy and meaty than its pungent rind counterpart.
Pairing Food and Wine with Washed Rind Cheese
Washed rind cheese often pairs well with white and medium-bodied red wines. If the washed rind cheese is more creamy, spreadable and briney, we recommend a medium-bodied, funky, mineral Pinot Grigio (see Pinot Grigio and Cheese Pairing Notes Here). If the washed rind cheese is little older and denser with deep nuttiness and notes of garlic, a juicy, berry pinot noir is always a good choice.